One of the most frustrating things about Portland’s current traffic culture crisis is that we have a proven tool that would go a long way toward fixing it, yet the City of Portland has been extremely slow to use it. I’m talking about automated traffic cameras, or what the Portland Bureau of Transportation refers to as “speed safety cameras.”
Since the first one was installed in 2016, they’ve worked very well. But a variety of factors has led to a maddening lack of implementation. Fingers have been pointed at a problematic vendor, camera procurement problems, technical (electrical) issues, the bottleneck caused by the Portland Police Bureau’s involvement (an issue that is behind us thanks to recently passed legislation), and as we reported via a city audit in 2015 a lack of cross-bureau coordination might share also some of the blame.
Regardless of the reasons, Portland has only installed nine cameras at five intersections in the past eight years.
But there’s reason for optimism! Not only did PBOT Commissioner Mingus Mapps recently promise to double the number of cameras currently in use in the next year, but a high-level PBOT staffer revealed at a meeting Thursday that cameras will be coming to new locations including 82nd Avenue and Powell Blvd.
Here’s the story…
With frustrations over record traffic deaths, falling cycling rates (due in large part to fear of dangerous drivers), and a “revenue crisis” gripping PBOT (more on that later), it wasn’t a surprise when a member of the PBOT Bureau Budget Advisory Committee (BBAC) brought up the lack of progress on traffic cameras at their monthly meeting last night.
When BBAC member Josh Roll asked PBOT Traffic Safety Section Manager Dana Dickman for an update on the camera rollout, she gave the most thorough and candid response on this topic I’ve ever heard from a city staffer.
Listen to the full audio (or the edited text) below:
“I’m really curious on what the status is on the speed cameras systems…I feel like what I just keep hearing is, ‘Oh, it’s procurement. No, it’s, supply-side stuff. So maybe that’s just still the answer. But once recent legislation has gone through some of the logjam on that side of the problem has been resolved, so I’m just curious for an update.”
“I would say things are getting better… All the things you mentioned — procurement, contractor issues, siting issues — all those are real. I think everyone’s going to start to seeing significantly more cameras on the street this summer. We feel like we’ve overcome some of those barriers. I’m hoping that for the expansion we have planned that we are going to have all the cameras installed by the end of this summer. That doesn’t mean all of them will be operational by then, but we should have all of the cameras out on the streets.
I feel like we’re gonna see a significant jump in the next four months. Like, things that we had hoped we were doing over two years, we’re literally going to be doing in six months; but that’s okay because we worked through some challenges. I feel like some of the logjams, so to speak, are really loosening up and we do have the authorization to use non-sworn officers and we’re working through what that’ll look like within PBOT.
We figured out some of the challenging issues with getting power to the new cameras and some of the other technical issues. And we’re going to be able to get some cameras on corridors that we’ve wanted for a long time like 82nd and Powell and some places where the community and PBOT has wanted some additional speed enforcement and intersection enforcement for a long time.”
This is a very helpful assessment of what has gone wrong and what we can expect going forward. It’s also the first time I’ve heard of cameras coming to 82nd Ave and to Powell Blvd. Let’s hope Dickman is right and PBOT is finally ready to move forward more quickly.
For more on PBOT’s traffic camera program, including a partial list of new camera locations, check out their website. And if you see new cameras pop up in the coming months, please drop me a line so we can continue to track this important program.